Thursday, January 31, 2008

U.S. Military Spending in Context

Want to read some eye-popping figures on our military budget or the number of personnel we employ related to our defense? Check out Paul Waldman's column. He also describes just how far-flung our military power is:
According to the Defense Department's 2007 Base Structure Report, we maintain 823 military facilities in 39 foreign countries, and another 86 facilities in seven U.S. territories. According to the document, "DoD occupies a reported 343,867 buildings throughout the world, valued at over $464 billion and comprising almost 2.4 billion square feet." The DoD also owns 32.4 million acres of land (nearly all of it in the U.S.), or over 50,000 square miles, an area about the size of Louisiana (or half of Colorado; or Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland combined).

Our military doesn't come cheap. Ezra Klein took Waldman's numbers and put them into the chart you see here to give us a visual image of US military spending as compared to the handful of nations we're theoretically spending that money against (numbers are from 2005).

This is how Klein breaks the numbers down:
Our spending is 43 percent of the total. Not the total on that chart. The total of the world. The "hostile" nations on that chart barely equal out to a fraction of our spending.
Will a new occupant in the White House affect military spending? Not according to Waldman:
John McCain says that he wants "a larger and more capable military," no shock from a man who barely ever met a military operation he didn't support. The one who actually provides some specificity is Mitt Romney, who wants to increase military spending to four percent of Gross Domestic Product. According to the government's current projections, GDP in 2009 will be $15.3 trillion, which means Romney is proposing to boost military spending by about 20 percent, to $612 billion in his first year in office (not counting Iraq). [emphasis added]

...the Democrats don't have much to say -- although Barack Obama wants to add 65,000 Army soldiers and 27,000 Marines. A consistent hawk, Hillary Clinton evinces no particular desire to reduce the size of the military either.
No wonder we don't have money for infrastructure, health care, education, etc. We're spending as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. For what? So we can be safe here at home? Our spending doesn't reflect that says Waldman:
...the portion of our "defense" spending that goes to actual defense is miniscule. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines aren't patrolling our borders and training to defend our cities. What they prepare for, and what they're called to do, is to project our extraordinary military power outward.
We're the world's sole superpower, but we really aren't safe at home and our domestic needs aren't being met. What a mess our leaders have made of this country.

Update: In a report released today, here's more proof those defense dollars aren't protecting us on the homefront:
The U.S. military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job, according to a report.

Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel says in a new report released Thursday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Same old Republicans in a new world

The website has a new look, and one of the features I always make a point to check out is in the lower right-hand corner: The Case, Straight Talk For The Common Good. It presents a conservative talking point (spin) with a progressive response. I thought this was a particularly good one:
CONservative spin: “Governments can't choose winners. Competition lets consumers choose, and efficient companies win. The last thing we need is more taxes to support big government programs.”

PROgressive response: Ironically, under President Bush, we've been hemorrhaging private manufacturing jobs. The largest source of new jobs under the Bush administration has been publicly-funded jobs—created by the military buildup, homeland security and state and local governments. Too many companies have used the tax cuts to merge, purge workers and outsource jobs abroad. And on some issues government can’t wait for "market solutions.” For example, our urgent need to move to a clean-energy economy means ending subsidies to big oil and mobilizing science and technology to develop alternative energy sources and improve energy efficiency. That will generate jobs and new industries.
Republicans are the dinosaurs of politics. They care more about protecting the interests of oil companies, privateers and cronies than they do generating jobs and new industries. This is a new century and a new world. If the Republicans continue to follow the same old path, they may soon find themselves extinct.

(Click here to read more Pro vs. Con.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Economy and war in Iraq linked

The NY Times asks, Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?
Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.
Americans weren't consumed by the war in Iraq - Bush and friends were. Ironically, it's because of their war that our economy is in such bad shape.

Jon Soltz of
But, every time the president talks about it, just keep one thing in mind. You cannot separate the economy and the war in Iraq, which has cost billions of dollars. Whether one believes in the cause of the war or doesn't, an unobjectionable truth is that it has been a drain on the economy and Americans have not been asked to sacrifice to lessen the impact. We've now entered the Iraq Recession, another point the president is unlikely to admit.
The president is unlikely to admit this either:
A proposed economic stimulus plan could boost this year's deficit by $100 billion, but political leaders believe the flood of red ink is worth the cost if it keeps the country from falling into a prolonged recession.
How prolonged?
Worries that any recession could be a severe one, far surpassing the last two mild, brief downturns in 1990-91 and 2001.
Finally, I doubt you'll hear the president relate how the world views our economy:
In Switzerland, the World Economic Forum has wrapped up after five days of talks. Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank, was one of several economists attending the summit in Davos to issue grave warnings about the state of the economy.

"There really are some deep structural problems. The fact that the U.S had to borrow in 2006 $850 billion from other countries-the richest country in the world; fundamental global imbalances, financial systems that don't know how to manage risk. These are not symptoms of what you might call a fundamentally strong economy."
It turns out our economic climate of growth was all smoke and mirrors. There's nothing to envy about that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Helping the Michigan tourism industry

Michigan could use some sunshine. We've had almost two weeks of cloudy, gray skies and it's been hard to maintain my normally sunny disposition (lol), but I found the perfect picker upper. I convinced my hubby that a day outside in frigid temperatures was just what we needed, so off we went to the quaint Bavarian town of Frankenmuth to check out their annual Snowfest activities. was cold, but it was fun watching the people and checking out the goodies in the warming tents. I experienced a couple of firsts too. Did you know people can actually bowl with frozen turkeys? That just doesn't seem right, but people were lining up to throw wrapped turkeys down a snow alley. To each their own I guess. I prefer my turkey stuffed with all the trimmings. The other thing I discovered was a new drink made from butterscotch schnapps and hot cocoa topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Yum! That sure helped take the chill away.

Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of what you missed. First up are a couple of snow statues.



There were lots of ice statues scattered around too. My favorites were Minnie Mouse and Yogi Bear.

Minnie Mouse

Yogi Bear

I didn't see Mickey Mouse around, but I took 25 pictures altogether if you're interested. In the meantime, I'm heading out to the kitchen to see if I have any cocoa and butterscotch schnapps!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Starbucks testing $1 dollar coffee

I admire the way Starbucks spins this:
Starbucks (SBUX) is testing $1 coffee and free refills in its Seattle outlets as the global gourmet coffee chain grapples with slower consumer spending and rising competition from fast-food rivals.

Starbucks is experimenting with a smaller, "short" $1 cup as well as free refills for brewed coffee. Starbucks charges around $1.50 to $4.00 for a coffee, depending on size and flavor.

In a statement, Starbucks said, "This test is not indicative of any new business strategy."
This is what they really meant to say:

This is indicative of the fact the Bush administration ran our economy into the ground and people no longer have discretionary money to spend on our over-priced coffee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

King to Edwards: My Father Would be Proud

Martin Luther King III met with John Edwards at the King Center in Atlanta on January 19th, 2008. Following that meeting, he sent Edwards this letter praising him for speaking out for those without a voice. The highest praise comes at the end though. King tells Edwards, "My father would be proud."
January 20, 2008

The Honorable John R. Edwards
410 Market Street
Suite 400
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Dear Senator Edwards:

It was good meeting with you yesterday and discussing my father's legacy. On the day when the nation will honor my father, I wanted to follow up with a personal note.

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of back and forth in the political arena over my father's legacy. It is a commentary on the breadth and depth of his impact that so many people want to claim his legacy. I am concerned that we do not blur the lines and obscure the truth about what he stood for: speaking up for justice for those who have no voice.

I appreciate that on the major issues of health care, the environment, and the economy, you have framed the issues for what they are - a struggle for justice. And, you have almost single-handedly made poverty an issue in this election.

You know as well as anyone that the 37 million people living in poverty have no voice in our system. They don't have lobbyists in Washington and they don't get to go to lunch with members of Congress. Speaking up for them is not politically convenient. But, it is the right thing to do.

I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.

From our conversation yesterday, I know this is personal for you. I know you know what it means to come from nothing. I know you know what it means to get the opportunities you need to build a better life. And, I know you know that injustice is alive and well in America, because millions of people will never get the same opportunities you had.

I believe that now, more than ever, we need a leader who wakes up every morning with the knowledge of that injustice in the forefront of their minds, and who knows that when we commit ourselves to a cause as a nation, we can make major strides in our own lifetimes. My father was not driven by an illusory vision of a perfect society. He was driven by the certain knowledge that when people of good faith and strong principles commit to making things better, we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can change lives.

So, I urge you: keep going. Ignore the pundits, who think this is a horserace, not a fight for justice. My dad was a fighter. As a friend and a believer in my father's words that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, I say to you: keep going. Keep fighting. My father would be proud.


Martin L. King, III
Edwards may not get the nomination, but I believe he'll be a force for change in this world just like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, and others who have seen injustice and stepped up to the plate to do something about it.

(Cross-posted at BFM.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Edwards Fundraising Goal Falls Short

Edwards' supporters efforts to raise $7 million dollars in one day weren't even close according to Mark Maynard:
I can’t find official numbers, but according to a comment left at Democratic Underground dotcom, the Edward’s “money bomb” fell dismally short of the $7 million dollars that had been hoped for. Apparently, about $1 million was raised. That’s not bad, I suppose, for a really unorganized last-minute effort, with no help at all from the national campaign, but I think we were all hoping for quite a bit more.
I was hoping for better results too, but $1 million is better than nothing. I'm not sure if that total includes matching funds or not. If not, that $1 million becomes $2 million dollars.

The Edwards' campaign was appreciative of our efforts and David Bonior (the national campaign manager) posted a thank you on their website.
Thank you! On behalf of John and Elizabeth Edwards and our entire campaign, I want to thank everyone who made a contribution on Friday, January 18th. In particular, I want to thank all those from the netroots community for rallying to our side at a time when we need it most. Thanks to you, we received several thousand contributions on Friday - and more than half of those contributions were from folks who had never before made a donation to our campaign.

As a result of your support, Friday was one of the best online fundraising days ever for our campaign. And, importantly, the great majority of those contributions will be eligible for matching funds, doubling the impact of your extraordinary effort.

We appreciate every contribution and every contributor to our campaign. We know many of those who have given to this campaign do so because they see that John is fighting for them - for their families and for the American dream we hold close to our hearts. Thank you for continuing to stand with John, and for helping to get out his message of bold, transformational change.
We fell short of our goal, but we still have South Carolina and Super Tuesday to look forward to. If Edwards secures enough delegate votes in those contests, pundits are saying it could make him a kingmaker. His aides haven't divulged what he might want for the support of his delegates, but he'd certainly be able to wrangle a prominent role for himself in a Democratic administration. That gives me some consolation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

John Edwards in the race till the convention

John Edwards may not have placed first in any of the earlier primaries, but he is not planning on quietly fading away according to his campaign manager David Bonior. He told The Huffington Post, "we're in this all the way, not only through February 5th, but into June and into the convention and picking up delegates all the way."

It's no secret that I support Edwards, but I've been increasingly concerned that without a first place finish he wouldn't stand a chance. Huffington Post correspondent Marc Cooper gave me a reason to be optimistic:
There may be more than standard campaign bravado behind Bonior's bold prediction. Edwards, in fact, doesn't have to win the nomination in order to win a similarly striking victory. If neither Obama nor Clinton can win a clean majority of nominating delegates going into the late summer Democratic convention, and if Edwards can keep scoring at least in the double-digits throughout the primaries, he could wind up with enough delegates to empower him as kingmaker, as the candidate with enough convention floor votes to sway the nomination to whom he pleases.

It's hardly a strategy that Bonior would confirm. But neither would he deny it when asked directly by the HuffPost. "I can tell you this much," Bonior said. "We're going to be marching into that convention with a whole lot of delegates."
Unfortunately, to keep Edwards in the race, he'll need money, lots of it, and that's why Edwards' supporters are asking people to donate to his campaign on Friday, January 18, and help him raise $7 million dollars. Come on Democrats, don't let Ron Paul supporters show us up! Help Edwards even if you're a Hillary or Barack fan by donating whatever you can afford. Just click on the picture below or donate at

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poor Rudy!

This was a headline at the Huffington Post:

Lost amid the celebration over Mitt Romney's win in the Michigan primary on Tuesday night was an equally noteworthy electoral result. Rudy Giuliani, the one-time frontrunner for the Republican nomination, placed sixth in the state. The three percent of the vote he received was just one point higher than that cast for "uncommitted."
On a brighter note, Rudy's money is helping to keep our economy going. Oh, wait, that's wrong. Scratch that. There is no bright note for Rudy.

Judge the candidates by their enemies

When the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce promised to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business (Edwards, Obama and Huckabee), I told myself those candidates must pose a real threat to the status quo to draw that kind of attention.

When Fortune Magazine recently made the claim they believe John Edwards is the only candidate who will stand up to corporate America, I sat up and took notice. Corporate America is the media and their message was clear (at least to me) - Edwards is the enemy.

I don't know if my method of choosing who I believe to be the best candidate is scientific or not, but I felt reassured when I read this from David Sirota.
With so much campaign rhetoric and propaganda swirling around, how do you really find out where any of these candidates are coming from on the issues? Over the years, I've figured out a decent method: Judge them - at least in part - by their enemies. Enmity cuts right through all the B.S. Who is afraid of a given candidates indicates whose interests that candidate truly threatens.

By this standard, this week has given us two pretty exemplary signals. First, Reuters reported a story under the headline "Corporate Elite Fear Candidate Edwards." The piece details how Wall Street moneymen and K Street lobbyists are frightened about Edwards populist, power-challenging message against greed and corruption.

Now today, the Club for Growth - a notorious corporate front group in Washington - has issued this press release bemoaning "Mike Huckabee's Liberal Record." It provides the details of an event in which the major players in Washington's conservative Establishment will berate Huckabee for having the nerve to stop health care cuts and invest in public infrastructure during his tenure as governor of Arkansas.
Sirota isn't endorsing either of these candidates, but he's making the point, "When the forces of money, power and corruption attack, it means candidates are probably doing at least something right."

Edwards is still my choice, and while I'm no fan of Huckabee, it does make me laugh to just think about a "Republican populist" being targeted by a corporate front group. I never thought I'd live to see the day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hopelessly (Un) Committed to John Edwards

I'm running for president because of 54 years of my life I have believed to my soul that the men and women who worked in that mill with my father were worth every bit as much as the man that owned that mill. - John Edwards

How can that message NOT resonate with every working class American? It's a message I learned from my parents and they learned from their parents. Every person has value and all work is valuable. It's too bad morality lessons are lost on the media. They've practically written John Edwards off as a footnote in campaign history. That's a shame. They might be missing a critical story according to Paul Rogat Loeb.
As media commentators proclaim Hillary Clinton’s rebirth from the ashes of defeat, they miss a critical story – Obama and Edwards won the New Hampshire primary. Add together Obama’s 36 percent and Edwards’s 17, and they beat Clinton’s 39 percent by 14 points. And because the Democratic primaries have proportionate representation, they’ll in fact come out with more combined delegates - 13 to Clinton’s 9.
Loeb's research also indicates those backing Edwards or Obama solidly pick the other as their second choice, which would make them a formidable ticket if they ran together.

The reason Edwards and Obama beat Clinton by 14 points is because politically they're much different from her. Consider Edwards' criticism that Clinton is the embodiment of Washington status quo and Loeb's description of her.
Clinton recently held a massive fundraising dinner with homeland security lobbyists. Her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, is CEO of a PR firm that prepped the Blackwater CEO for his recent congressional testimony, is aggressively involved in anti-union efforts, and has represented everyone from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Clinton supported an Iran vote so reckless that Jim Webb called it “Dick Cheney’s fondest Pipe Dream,” and did so, according to her campaign insiders, because she was covering herself for the general election. She’s still not apologized for her Iraq vote, and her hoarding of scarce 2006 campaign dollars may well have cost the Democrats an even larger Congressional victory.
Clinton calls herself an agent of change, but Corporate America is strongly represented among her circle of friends. That sounds like more of the same to me.

Would I like to see a woman become president? Absolutely, but I need to consider more than gender. The problems we face in this country are primarily the result of two things - (1) years of Republican dominance and (2) corporate abuse and greed. Edwards is a Democrat, so that takes care of the first problem, and Fortune Magazine recently made the claim that the Democrats' war on corporate greed is mostly bluster - except for John Edwards - they believe he is the only candidate who will stand up to corporate America. When a business magazine makes a statement like that, I sit up and take notice. So, that takes care of the second problem and makes Edwards the candidate for me.

(Attn: Michigan Democratic delegates. My uncommitted vote is a really a vote for John Edwards. )

(Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

About those speeding Iranian boats, Charlie

I wonder what Charlie Gibson has to say about this story after he so willingly acted like a propagandist for President Bush?

From ABC News:
Just two days after the U.S. Navy released the eerie video of Iranian speedboats swarming around American warships, which featured a chilling threat in English, the Navy is saying that the voice on the tape could have come from the shore or from another ship. [...]

The Navy never said specifically where the voices came from, but many were left with the impression they had come from the speedboats because of the way the Navy footage was edited.

Today, the spokesperson for the U.S. admiral in charge of the Fifth Fleet clarified to ABC News that the threat may have come from the Iranian boats, or it may have come from somewhere else.

We're saying that we cannot make a direct connection to the boats there," said the spokesperson. "It could have come from the shore, from another ship passing by.
Yipes, I sure am glad Charlie's not in a position to push "the button" based on someone else's hearsay.

UPDATE: Juan Cole has a post that explains this incident in great detail. He said it's looking more and more like a serious error if not a Republican Party fabrication. Imagine that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Charles Gibson - Propagandist

Did you happen to see ABC World News last night? Charles Gibson introduced a segment of film showing Iranian swift boats confronting our naval ships in the Persian Gulf, and he went on to report that Bush called the incident an "act of provocation." Gibson should have stopped there and let the film roll, instead he went on to say "provocation was an understatement," as the film would show. (I couldn't find a transcript or video of that clip. I'll keep trying.)

The minute those words left Charlie's mouth my husband and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Iran was trying to provoke the US Navy and we were completely innocent? I don't think so.

Neither does David Lindorff, investigative reporter, who asked, What Is This ‘Iranian Provocation’ BS?
Not one news story about this week’s latest chapter in the administration’s ongoing effort to gin up a crazy war with Iran–the so-called “provocation” caused by Iranian naval speedboats approaching within 200 meters of a US destroyer–mentioned that the US, which sits some 7500 miles away from Iran, has sent a whole fully-armed armada into the Persian Gulf just off Iran’s coast.

Or that the Vice President actually flew out to an aircraft carrier that was part of that US armada, and threatened, from the flight deck, to have the US massively attack Iran.

Just who is provoking whom where?
See my point? Now consider this:
Imagine, for a moment, that Iran had sent its navy to patrol in the Gulf of Mexico, in international waters just off of the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and that its leader flew out to one of those ships and threatened to take out America’s oil infrastructure.

How do you think the US government would react? How do you think the American people would react?

Do you think the US would send naval vessels out to provokingly sail close to Iranian ships? Do you think the US might do more than that and maybe sink those ships? (Especially if at that very moment Iranian special forces were operating inside the US, creating havoc and supporting subversive elements, as US special forces are already doing in Iran.)
I'm pretty certain we'd bomb them into oblivion (that's been our MO in the past), but here's the part that Charles Gibson might care to consider:
I’m not saying that Iran’s decision to move aggressively to challenge US naval power off their shores is necessarily the wisest move, but at least American journalists and editors ought to have the decency and ethics to point out to readers and viewers that it is the US, not the Iranians, that are provoking things here. [emphasis added]
That's the same point Ron Paul futilely tried to make during the ABC News New Hampshire Debate last weekend. Ironically, Charles Gibson moderated that night and allowed the debate to turn into a free for all. It was like watching a panel of guests on Fox News beat up on each other the way the Republican candidates shouted over Ron Paul and refused to let him talk. This is what Paul tried to say that night:
PAUL: I'm as concerned about the nature of the threat of terrorism as anybody, if not more so. But they don't attack us because we're free and prosperous.

And there all radicals in all elements, in all religions that will resort to violence. But if we don't understand that the reaction is, is because we invade their countries and occupy their countries, we have bases in their country -- and we haven't done it just since 9/11, but we have done that a long time.

I mean, it was the Air Force base in Saudi Arabia before 9/11 that was given as the excuse.

If we don't understand that, we can't win this war against terrorism.
I'm no fan of Ron Paul, but I agree with him on this point, and it bothers me to no end that the media willingly portrays the U.S. as an innocent victim. I've also lost all respect for anchors like Gibson because, as Lindorff summed it up, "our domestic news organizations are playing the willing propagandists here as willingly as did Pravda or TASS in the old Soviet Union." I thought our country and the people who represent us were better than that.

(Cross-posted at BFM)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why does corporate America hate us?

Early primary voters are choosing the candidates with populist messages - Obama, Edwards and Huckabee. Corporate America took notice and they're not too happy.

Commerce vows to punish anti-business candidates
Alarmed at the increasingly populist tone of the 2008 political campaign, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to issue a fiery promise to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business.

"We plan to build a grass-roots business organization so strong that when it bites you in the butt, you bleed," chamber President Tom Donohue said.
Nice. Voters are concerned about an economy that borders on recession, a weak record of job creation, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, declining home values and growing health care crisis, but the chamber isn't worried about our concerns - they're only worried about protecting their shareholders and CEO's.
Reacting to what it sees as a potentially hostile political climate, Donohue said, the chamber will seek to punish candidates who target business interests with their rhetoric or policy proposals, including congressional and state-level candidates.

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle.
No words of sympathy for workers. No promise from corporate America that they'll work to improve workers' living standards. No thank you for the record high productivity levels. Nothing. Just derision and a promise to bite the butts of the candidates we support until they bleed.

Thanks, Mr. Donohue. You just helped push more voters toward the populist candidates.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

How monkeys and men are similar

This might interest some of you guys. According to a primatologist who studied 50 long-tailed macaques for the past 20 months, monkeys treat sex as a commodity.
[Dr. Michael] Gumert found after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.

And as with other commodities, the value of sex is affected by supply and demand factors: A male would spend more time grooming a female if there were fewer females in the vicinity.

"And when the female supply is higher, the male spends less time on grooming ... The mating actually becomes cheaper depending on the market," Gumert said.
Hmm...does this prove men evolved from monkeys? Or maybe it proves women of all species can make monkeys out of men. I'm just saying...

Friday, January 04, 2008

What goes around, comes around

This was in yesterday's Financial Times
Everybody’s thoughts may be on Iowa, so maybe it is appropriate to spare one for George W. Bush, entering the last year of his presidency. In so doing, there is no reason to be charitable.
I thought it was worth highlighting that statement. It shows how little respect the rest of the world has for Bush. There are no kind words for him because he hasn't left the world a better place.

Sadly, there are no kind words for our country either. This is how the Toronto Star described us in a recent article: Welcome to Third World, USA

Apparently, the Wall Street Journal insulted Canada in the mid-1990s by calling them "an honorary Third World country." Now that the tables have turned, they're more than happy to reciprocate.
Ironically, the U.S. today has many more features in common with Third World status than Canada ever did back in the mid-1990s.

What is usually meant by a Third World economy? A half-century ago, the term was associated with the economically underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania. The common characteristics of these Third World countries were high levels of poverty, income inequality, high birth rates and an economic dependence upon the advanced countries. Third World countries were simply not as industrialized or technologically advanced as Western countries.

But what are some of the distinguishing characteristics of contemporary Third World countries? They go beyond these nations’ fiscal position or undue concentration on natural resource exports.

The glaring features today include poverty, lack of democratic institutions, controlling oligarchies and the unequal distribution of income and wealth. In other words, the few enjoy a rich lifestyle while the many share subpar incomes and poverty.

Another characteristic of Third World countries is that a major portion of their fiscal expenditures is allocated to the military. In many Third World countries, the military is controlled by an elite or a small collection of the wealthy.

Finally, in many Third World countries one finds that leadership is passed from one generation to the next, often via a close relative.
Check, check and check. They also point out that there's an ideological difference between us and other countries:
[...] most Western democracies see the elimination or reduction of economic inequality as a good idea. Indeed, it is a generally accepted principle that the underlying causes of economic inequality based on such non-economic differences as race, gender, or geography should also be minimized or eliminated.

In other words, there is a strong predilection in most Western countries to level the economic playing field as much as possible. This seems not to be the case in the United States. [emphasis added]
This is our country after decades of Republican control and two terms under Bush. No wonder "change" resonated with the voters in Iowa yesterday.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Should the Iowa Caucus Influence Us?

Today is caucus day in Iowa. Real people will have the first say in who they think should become our next president. Should what they say influence our decision when it comes time for us to vote? Because Iowans are first, does that mean they're smarter than us and know better?

Political analyst Larry Sabato believes we need to stay focused in reality.
[...] the more immediate need is for all of us to keep in mind legitimate questions about Iowa's system as we watch the results stream in this evening. The press' breathless pronouncements about the "winners" and "losers" should be tempered somewhat by another reality--the deep flaws inherent in Iowa's over-hyped caucuses.
Sabato feels the (1) the caucuses this year are way too early; (2) the caucuses and the state are unrepresentative of the broader electorate; and (3) the rules of the caucuses raise real questions about fairness.

This is what he says about the timing:
Have you met anyone who thinks it's a good idea to start the process two days after New Year's, with campaigning having peaked over the Christmas holidays? Let's remember why this has happened: Iowa and New Hampshire absolutely insisted upon going first, as always. Isn't that a little bit greedy? Aren't there 48 other equal states?
The lack of representativeness:
Iowa, like New Hampshire, is overwhelmingly white and disproportionately rural. African-Americans and Hispanics in the Hawkeye State, for example, number just 2 percent and 3 percent of the population, respectively, and 38 percent of Iowans are located in rural areas. In the nation as a whole, nearly 25 percent of the population is African-American or Hispanic, and a mere 21 percent of U.S. citizens are found in rural localities. New Hampshire is even worse than Iowa, with a population that is 0.7 percent black, 1.7 percent Hispanic, and 41 percent rural. In the Democratic Party--the home of 90 percent of African-Americans and about two-thirds of Hispanics--the disparity is especially significant. The two first states to vote often determine one or both party nominees, yet racial and ethnic minorities will have played a tiny role.
And the unfair caucus rules:
Let's keep in mind that the Iowa caucus requires a great deal from all participants, not least a full evening devoted to travel and meeting. The time commitment discourages many from joining in. Iowa's population is about 3 million, of which approximately 2 million are registered voters. The news media are full of stories about an expected "record" turnout tonight. And what will that record amount to? In both parties combined, there may be as many as 250,000 people showing up for the caucuses, or 12 percent of the registered voters. Therefore 88 percent of Iowa's registered population won't be seen or heard from on caucus night.
Iowa gains monetarily from being first (this has been the most expensive campaign in Iowa history), but beyond that their influence in shaping the presidential campaign shouldn't be taken too seriously. Besides, the winners of caucuses in Iowa have gone on to win the presidency only twice since the caucuses started in 1972: Jimmy Carter in 1976 and George W. Bush in 2000. And neither of those choices turned out to be so good for the country.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Flint sit-down strike's role in history

The anniversary of the Great Flint Sit Down Strike was December 30. The strike took place in 1936 and is important because it resulted in General Motors' recognition of the UAW as a bargaining agent. For the next 41 days, Christine at Blogging for Michigan will be writing a series of posts describing what life was like during the strike. Christine asks the following:
Feel free to comment, or not, but I do hope you'll at least spend a minute thinking about it. Let it become part of who you are ... carry it with you, and pull it out when someone starts twaddling on about the right to work for less. If you really care about the future of the working men and women of this country, you'll do your best to understand their past.
I have a post over there too that reminds everyone it's important to understand the past. The Flint sit-down strike is a history lesson about the birth of unionization. For instance, what was the auto industry like prior to the Great Depression? Historian Stephen Sears described it as follows:
Before the Great Depression, unionism was in truth not much of an issue in Detroit. The vast labor army recruited during the auto boom of the twenties — white dirt farmers, poor city dwellers, southern blacks, recent immigrants — was docile and innocent of trade-union experience. Any labor grievances were defused by pay scales higher than those in most other industries and by a system of “welfare capitalism” (group insurance, savings programs, housing subsidies, recreational facilities, and the like) in which General Motors was a pioneer. Openshop Detroit had little to fear from the nation’s largest union, the American Federation of Labor. The craft-minded AFL devoted itself to horizontal unionism—organizing all the machinists, for example, regardless of industry. It studiously ignored industrial unionism, the vertical organization of the unskilled or semiskilled workers within a particular industry such as autos, steel, or rubber.
Then the Depression hit and everything changed.
[...] In the early 1930's Detroit auto workers found themselves powerless as the industry collapsed like a punctured balloon. Welfare capitalism was silent on job security. Wages and work time were slashed. As layoffs mounted, workers with ten or twenty years’ experience discovered that their seniority counted for nothing; it counted for nothing, either, in the call-backs that marked an upturn in auto sales beginning in 1933. Assembly lines were speeded up mercilessly to raise productivity and restore profit levels. Bitter men protested. “You might call yourself a man if you was on the street,” a Fisher Body worker recalled, “but as soon as you went through the door and punched your card, you was nothing more or less than a robot. ” “It takes your guts out, that line. The speed-up, that’s the trouble,” another said. “You should see him come home at night, him and the rest of the men … ,” a Flint auto worker’s wife testified. “So tired like they was dead.… And then at night in bed, he shakes, his whole body, he shakes. …”
The auto workers saw unionism and the strike as their only hope of redressing the balance. Stop and think about the courage those workers showed. As wizardkitten pointed out at BFM, "the fact that they did this in the middle of the Depression is astounding."

Sears described the gains the workers made like this:
Victory in the Flint sit-down by no means ended the discontents of the auto worker. Yet now, for the first time, he could envision himself as something more than simply an insignificant part of a great impersonal machine; as “Solidarity” phrased it, the union had made him strong. “Even if we got not one damn thing out of it other than that,” a Fisher Body worker said, “we at least had a right to open our mouths without fear.” [emphasis added]
Unions are more than just bargaining units for better wages and benefits. They give workers a voice. That's something you can't put a dollar sign on.